Driving, Dreaming

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Matthew Henry Smith, ’16

Last night I had a dream that the sun was setting and I was in the car with my parents. My father was driving, my mother was beside him in the passenger seat, and I was sitting in the back fraught with confusion. I was confused because my father, Francis, was telling my mother and me about all of the things he wanted to do. Some of the things were small household tasks and others were plans big enough to change the world. I leaned forward, putting my hand on his shoulder and tenderly told him that he could not do these things because he had died. He became angry and shook off my hand, telling me that it wasn’t true. How it could be true if he was driving? My mother never moved, just keeping her eyes on the road. I woke up in tears.


My father spent so much of the last four years in hospitals that the past few weeks without him haven’t been totally foreign in feeling. And beyond the usual, “He was suffering and now it’s a blessing that he is at peace,” I haven’t verbalized the permanence of his absence. Then again, things are starting to come to my attention, like when the front door opens in the evening and I find myself expecting to hear the dog bark, my dad’s briefcase thud to the floor and my mother to call out, “Stand up; your father’s home.” Now the dog barks, the door opens, and a stranger delivers flowers. They are beautiful but they are not my father.

We have all gone back to work and to the places where we live, finding purpose in the busyness, new joys tinged with melancholy. I often begin to message my dad when I find good news to share, but then close my phone when I realize the futility of this action. Moving on will take a long time and the process will likely be a jarring sequence of bangs and busts.

Yet the dream I had last night has me thinking differently. Liturgically speaking we are in a time of Lent, when Catholics walk with Christ on his journey of sacrifice. Despite this, in my heart it is Pentecost, the celebration of Christ sending his Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles in spreading the Gospel. I believe the spirit of my father has interrupted my efforts to move on by reminding me of the work he has yet to do.

In my dream, my father wasn’t incredulous because he couldn’t accept his own death; he was incredulous that I could not see beyond it. I was like Thomas, doubting the miraculous, assuming that my life would be forever devoid of the man who raised me. But it isn’t like that at all. My father shaped my moral compass and remains involved in my choices, each, in part, a reflection of his values. As the Holy Spirit guides all of us who mourn the death of Christ and hope in his resurrection, the living spirit of my father guides me, my family and all who he touched.

Last night I did not dream of my father; my father came to meet me in my dream. And he told me that his work isn’t finished. And he told me not to doubt that it could be done.  And my mother keeps her eyes on the road because she knows it is so. She is driven by my father and, now reminded, so am I. He wanted me to see that.

My father lives and it is true because he is driving.

 

Matthew has been a contributor to Friarside Chats since April of 2013. This is his final post.

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Fortune Telling in Chicago

shoot3I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the eerie circumstances of October 9th. I was visiting my partner in Chicago and we were walking down his street towards toward a promising night out. Allen was eagerly telling me about the friends he was making and how one was working on a doctoral thesis surrounding mysticism and fortune tellers. Apparently, her work explains, there is a direct correlation between the economic recession and folks deciding to visit psychics instead of therapists. We continued to walk, joking curiously about this practice and its authenticity.

From the darkness behind us a voiced called out, “Do you think it’s real?” We turned to find a woman by the corner who must have slipped our vision, her slight build listing against the support of her bicycle. She looked worried and determined but somehow temporary, as if the whirlwind of her life had just deposited her on that street corner for the moment we were crossing it. Her question had stopped us dead in our tracks.

“Fortune telling. Psychics. Is it all real?” she repeated. Her tone was earnest and emotional as if our response could change her world. We shrugged nervously, smiled and said we weren’t sure. She began to tell us her narrative of misfortune and I was transfixed. Months ago she had seen a psychic who told her that she was going to miscarry. She did. She was angry. She hadn’t believed the psychic but was now in the throes of violent uncertainty. Because her first pregnancy had ended the same way she wondered if the psychic had reached out to her friends to gather background information, but they all had denied involvement. We were speechless at this unexpected interaction and for a third time, desperately waiting for us to answer, she pleaded, “I’m asking you, is it real?”

On that street corner in Chicago the lenses of the universe aligned our lives with this woman’s. But to what end? We had nothing to offer her but empty words of solace. So we exchanged well-wishes and parted ways, leaving us in silence for the next few blocks. I felt hollow. For all of my Public Service training and friendly nature, I couldn’t summon an ounce of legitimate assistance for this person. I knew her only by her troubles. But that’s the thing; so had the fortune teller.

Regardless of the legitimacy of the practice, fortune telling doesn’t provide a service to people that sees them as a whole person (like traditional therapy). It sees them only by their fortunes and misfortunes, buy their successes and failures. It doesn’t help people focus on their assets and build themselves up by their strengths. A psychic doesn’t form a relationship with their customer in the same way that a therapist forms a relationship with their patient.

But deeper questions that arise from this interaction are, “What is useful information for us?” and, “What are the questions we seek answers to?” I suppose I can’t know that fortune telling isn’t real, but it made me think about all of the times in my life that I’ve put my trust in people to tell me what the future will bring. At one time or another we have all trusted experts to advise our biggest decisions.

Brittany Maynard, a woman with a terminal, incurable form of cancer ended her life yesterday. She had become a controversial figure under the national spotlight as someone seeking care under Oregon’s the Death with Dignity Act. There is someone very close to me who is wondering how much time is left. While we’ve been told by doctors that there’s “no crystal ball” (their actual words) they have still given us estimates in the form of months. But those haven’t always been correct and I am blessed that they haven’t. Because they were wrong I’ve been given a little more time with him. It is curious to be a human in a world of pleasure and suffering trying to strike a balance between living and dying – to understand the sadness of leaving those we love in this world to find the joy of going home to a God who waits for us. If I had met Brittany I would have been as tongue-tied as I was when I met the woman in Chicago.

I’m not writing this to finally answer the question of that woman in Chicago, or to say if I thought Brittany was wrong to die the way she chose to. What I am saying is this: that night I got to walk away with someone I loved knowing that life is worth living for as long as I can live it well, and also that this extra time with my father has been a miracle. Our lives are filled with crippling uncertainty and crisis, but living them is possible when we know that love makes us eternal. Right now I invite you to reach out to someone you love, because doing so is the only way to find the answers to the right questions. God bless you.

Safety, Security, and the Pursuit of Happiness

shoot3Matthew Henry Smith, ’16

“I almost felt unsafe,” said Father Shanley, recounting his tale of coming upon this year’s Golf Party and having to weave his vehicle into a nervous caravan of cars winding through a sea of pastel students up the Eaton Street hill. He told this story yesterday to the 65th PC Student Congress in response to a question about student safety concerns in the neighborhood.

What are we doing to address safety problems in the neighborhood?

On Sunday night my fella, Allen, and I were talking via Google Hangout. He recently left the east coast for Law School in Chicago. During our conversation he looked at me and said, “I thought of you when I received this,” and he showed me a pamphlet from his orientation program. Titled Living in the City, the pamphlet’s cover showed two hip-looking white guys posed like they were headed out for adventure. It looked, perhaps, like an instruction manual for urban living, as if it would tell you how to get to the nearest IKEA, where to find the best Thai food and who the hottest underground bands were.

But that’s not what the pamphlet contained. Inside were the numbers to the campus police, the shuttle service, the safety escort program and so forth. Largely, it was information about how to stay safe, insulated, defensive, and where to go to react to crime. It told a very specific story about how to live in the city, in his new community. Allen asked me, “So, what do you think I should do to engage my new community?”

He asked me this because it’s what I study here at PC and, just a week before this conversation, I had been invited to speak with my brother, John, for a group of high school seniors about community engagement. The Lincoln School is an independent, Quaker secondary school for young women on the East Side of Providence, and the group of students in the seminar were about to begin applying to colleges. Like Allen, they wanted to know how to become involved in the communities at their new schools. I asked them how they had engaged in their communities in the past:

“I worked in a food pantry,” said one.

“I volunteered at a hospital,” said another.

“I organized a clothing drive,” said a third.

I told the Students at Lincoln School what I told Allen: they best way to engage a new community is to live there. Really live there. Traditional service to your community is a noble endeavor but you can’t adequately serve a community until you’ve experienced what it has to offer. If we isolate ourselves in new places we invite misunderstanding. Plus, there’s lots of different ways to support a community once you’ve gotten to know it and one important way is to spend money in it.

What does this have to do with PC? We do quite a bit to report crimes in communities and seek criminal justice, but we often don’t do as much work to network with our communities before crimes happen. At Providence College we don’t pass out pamphlets like they do at Allen’s school, but we still have some of our own inadequate practices for teaching students how to engage the community, just like any college that the young women of Lincoln School will attend will have some of their own.

We have a knack for showing our newest brothers and sisters only the amenities that will appeal to traditional upper-class sensibilities. In the orientation program this year we offered first year students the opportunity to go for a walk in the community, but this was an option to choose versus a trip to Providence Place Mall or Thayer Street. Pitching a walk in the community was a hard sell because PC has only just begun to think about Smith Hill differently.

There has been tremendous administrative leadership on this front, as well as the leadership of some students, but most new students are still interpreting the message as “Okay, this is the neighborhood where you ‘do service’” and separately “This is the neighborhood you spend money and have fun.”

This is a damaging dichotomy.

One way to decrease violence is to increase prosperity. But if we live beside Smith Hill and spend all of our money at La Salle Bakery, Thayer Street, Federal Hill, and the mall, we are not helping to sustain the very local economy. When we spend outside of our communities they weaken.

When Fr. Shanley was speaking to Student Congress, his took a question about student safety concerns and turned it into a challenge for our student body. Safety problems in the neighborhood are a two way street and our President gets that. But do are students? I’m not saying that our traditions – like Golf Party – need to be left behind, but we should think about how we execute them. Father Shanley’s anecdote posits the question, “Have we considered how intimidating we may be to our neighbors?”

And if you’re not up for a community-motivated metanoia, just remember:

Yes, you are a resident of Providence and not just this neighborhood, but every time you go to Thayer Street as a Providence College Student you are borrowing the hangouts of Brown and RISD students. They will never be our own. Douglas Avenue is one of the last commercial spaces in Providence to develop, and it is developing right now while maintaining all of the historic charm and architectural integrity that makes this city so attractive. You could have Thayer Street amenities with a Smith Hill twist if you’re willing to spend more time and money here than there.

Friars, you are experiencing the four year process of becoming a “local” yourself. You can vote here, and that should matter to you. So compost with the community at Frey Florist. Pray with the community at St. Pat’s or the Pentacostal Churches or the Baptist Churches. Break bread with the community at the Common Grounds Café.

We are more than liquor stores and crime alerts. I believe that. Our administration believes that, and that’s why they’ve helped to create Common Grounds and partnered with the Smith Hill CDC. If you’re ready for a safer, more economically developed community then it’s time to make these connections.

Friends, we need to meet our neighbors where there’s common ground and start putting our money where our off campus houses are.

Nobody’s Sidekick: Where are the Next Crusaders?

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith, ’16

My little brother, Benjamin, (the last Smith child) recently introduced me to Young Justice. Recently acquired by Netflix Streaming, this cartoon tells the story of DC’s Justice League elevating their assistants from simple sidekicks to Protégés.

You should know Superheroes are taken very seriously in my house. We pour over IMDB for updates on the newest X-Men movies. We debate Christology and LGBT themes in the Marvel Universe. But DC’s Young Justice recently took my thoughts in a different direction.

Young Justice isn’t a coalition of sidekicks. Instead, Kid-Flash, Robin and the gang are tomorrow’s heroes. The concept of Superheroes training the next generation of caped crusaders had me thinking about our own student leaders. Could it be that this Saturday morning cartoon is a serendipitous allegory to for the stories of our campus’ club executives, student writers, programmers, athletes, guides and representatives? You bet.

Even before Buzzfeed came around you were taking tests to tell you “what sort of person you are.” These tests are meant to be helpful, and direct your focus towards preexisting strengths you can hone. That said, they’ve very seriously perpetuated a damaging stereotype of leadership.

Sure, some folks were born with skills and personality traits that are objectively acute for leading. Consider the Type-A’s, the extroverts, those for whom leadership comes naturally. These people are the ones among us who are most sought after to lead.

That said, it is dangerous to think that the only people who can lead were born to do so. Leadership is not always extroversion. Sometimes it’s diligence. But always it’s selfless dedication to a cause that often predates and hopefully outlives the leader.

One of the dangers of narrowing the definition of leadership is that, eventually, we come to expect that only these sorts of people will lead us. And because there are more executive positions than there are Type-A’s, leadership monopolies form like soft student oligarchies. It’s never malicious and isn’t always harmful. But what happens when students who are considering getting more involved see the same faces at the top of every chain of student command? If I weren’t a “Type-A” kind of guy, I might be intimidated to get involved when student leadership is dominated by a similar few.

After thinking about this for a while, I’ve come up with a check-in list for the binary that has formed. Here’s the breakdown for those who weren’t the first to jump on the involvement train:

  1. There’s always time, but not as much as there was yesterday.
  2. Your ideas are important.
  3. There isn’t a perfect formula for leadership. Find someone who inspires you, but lead with your own qualities.
  4. You can lead from unelected/appointed positions.

And here’s the breakdown for the Type-A’s:

  1. Seek opportunities to empower others to lead.
  2. You don’t need to lead every time you are asked to.
  3. Allow for people to try, to fail, to try again, and to prove you wrong.
  4. You can still lead from unelected/appointed positions.

Causes and clubs shouldn’t rise and fall on the backs of singular members. The best leaders empower all connected in the cause to rise to the challenges of these responsibilities. Especially when it comes to campus leadership, we should always remember that less than four years from any point in our collegiate journeys we won’t be part of the picture.

In short we are doing very well. Our clubs are strong and our student leadership is sincere. This is simply a reminder to always seek out who is coming next – especially as some Friars approach commencement.

Consequently this presents the opportunity to announce that a new tab will be appearing soon for students to submit guest pieces to the writers of Friarside Chats. We’re looking for fresh new ideas and, of course, our own next generation of forward-thinking editorialists.

Anyway, you’ve got a whole summer coming your way to consider sharing your own load or helping out with someone else’s.

Keep at it, Super-Friars. And in the meantime, check out Young Justice… if only because it takes place in Rhode Island.

A Niche Discussion of Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Responsibilities

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith, ’16

There is a part of the abortion debate about which you may be unaware. It’s one I hold a queer stake in, and one that you should be talking about.

I was reading the Providence Journal this morning while enjoying a big bowl of Raisin Bran when I came across an article by Randal Edgar profiling four pieces of legislation in Rhode Island that have to do with abortion. The last proposal Edgar noted was about sex selection, “Yet another [bill] would ban abortions in cases where ‘the decision is based on the sex of the unborn child.’”

To preface, those close to me know that I have a pragmatic opinion about abortion legislation. I dream of a world without abortion, but I know the way to get there isn’t to legislate against it. I understand some of the reasons why people pursue abortion and also understand the reasons why people abhor the practice.

Inasmuch as I want to see the end of abortion, I know that abortion won’t end before poverty and misogyny end. I know that abortion decreases when pregnancy decreases and that pregnancy decreases when women in every country are educated. My life-respecting philosophy in regards to reproduction involves an approach that is a multi-faceted combination of abstinence and safe-sex education. And I know that a view this moderate might appear a cop-out for some of my friends on the polar ends of this issue, (some of whom might think that, as a man, I have not right to have an opinion at all). I’ll tell you that I have arrived here after years of deliberation. It is also a position that will call me to shout, not at right-to-life marches, but in support of women’s groups who fight for equal access to education and resources. What’s more, my view on this is just one element of many in my philosophy on environmentalism and human population, (you should know I am not a speciestist).

Further, if you believe as I do that there is an enormous difference between abortion and contraception then you should consider that the institutions we think of as the abortion industry provide many service to prevent abortion (by preventing pregnancy). They offer sexual health and wellness amenities for men and women in need, educating on safe sex and pregnancy prevention, etc.  For more on this I recommend that you watch Aljazeera America’s fabulous documentary The Abortion War.

But while the majority of this issue – and the solution – centers around equity there is a part of it that does not.

And I have a queer stake in some legislation rising in Rhode Island.

America critiques other cultures for post-birth sex-selection. We look at China’s preference for males and we shake our heads. But our prejudice, inconsistent as it might be, is rooted in a far greater hubris. It is quieter, cloaked in the laurels of scientific achievement and discussed in thin-lipped, even tones. In America we terminate pregnancies when we don’t prefer the sex of the baby.

That is if it even gets that far. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, (or PGD) is the practice of fertilizing multiple eggs and then determining the traits of each. This often results in a person choosing only to implant the fertilized eggs with the traits they prefer. Often, this means that parents are choosing only to implant eggs of the desired sex. I’m not opening up the “where does life begin” argument. But I’m saying we need to talk about what we allow ourselves to expect from our kids and where we think we get the authority to have a sex preference in the first place.

There are two queer reasons why sex selection in preimplantation and pregnancy termination is unjust. The first is that it is another way our culture promotes the sex binary. We choose to believe that people are either males or females and, when a person is born with XXY chromosomes or ambiguous genitalia, we take away their sex identity and make them either male or female surgically. According to ISNA.org, incidents of “intersex condition” are 1 in 2000. This means that there are more people who are intersex than there are people with cystic fibrosis. This means that there are more people who are intersex in the world than there are Jews.

You can see how many people are degraded by the sex binary. When they are born we often assign them a sex surgically. I have spoken with people who defend parents in this case saying; “they thought they were doing the best thing for their child.” The argument is that parents just want their kids to grow up and have normal sexual relationships. But when we “fix” our intersex children to fit our sex binary, (or never allow them to be born), we reaffirm a dysphoric cultural paradigm that says the following: Happiness and achievement in its highest form is sexual and procreative. I believe this to be patently false. And so there is a great risk of intersex discrimination with PGD and sex-selective pregnancy termination.

The second queer reason to reject the practice of sex selection is that it reaffirms a cultural ignorance of the differences between sex and gender. While someone might choose to implant or terminate a zygote based on the knowledge that it is male or female, there is just no telling whether or not that male or female will (or would have) go up (or grown up) to be a boy or girl. We default to the cisgender  “rule” and in much the same way that we default to heterosexism. When we partake in sex selection we promote cisgender privilege and reject the dignity of trans people. When we choose not to carry a female fetus to term because we want a boy we are fooling ourselves into think we can choose gender.

We cannot.

So this is my queer stake in this issue. I’d like you to care about it. But even if you don’t, even if you are so far to the left that I appear to you some misplaced queer zealot, you still have a stake in this. Because this isn’t a faith argument about the origin of personhood: it’s a rallying cry for the unmasking of the illusion of human control.  And whether this law comes to pass or not, Friars, consider the assumptions you might hold about your future kids. Would you love your intersex child if love meant loving their birth body? Do you dream of one day having a “boy” OR a “girl?” Do you buy into this illusionary market of control?

It’s time to think about these tough questions.

Choose.

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith ’16

I have never been more confused. Someone give it to me straight. What is Providence College?

It chose me. Actually it chose us. Somewhere back in the Novembers of our high school days we chose to apply to PC and somewhere in the springtime it chose us right back. This is important. Let us not forget that PC chose us.

Why is this important? Because it means that PC chose every LGBT person on this campus – and out of an undergraduate body roughly 4000 conservative statistics would show us that means there are probably around 160 LGBT students on this campus. It did not choose them for this reason – it could not have known. But there we were: queer and accepted to Providence College.

And then it chose us a second time when you included sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination policy. So now when people point to folks like me and say, “why did you come here if you were gay” I say, “because PC chose me.” And there we were: queer and accepted at Providence College.

In these actions PC did not only choose the LGBT folks but all of our allies as well. It asserted that is a credible institution that deserves our time and diligence and dollars.

But then Providence College reversed. The Philosophy Department announced yesterday that it is hosting a speaker on February 18th. Her name is Dr. Michelle Cretella, MD and she represents NARTH: the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. This group is a niche community of individuals who work to convert “homosexuals” with unwanted same sex attraction. The American Psychological Association has this to say:

“Lesbian, gay, and bisexual orientations are not disorders. Research has found no inherent association between any of these sexual orientations and psychopathology. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual behavior are normal aspects of human sexuality. Both have been documented in many different cultures and historical eras. Despite the persistence of stereotypes that portray lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as disturbed, several decades of research and clinical experience have led all mainstream medical and mental health organizations in this country to conclude that these orientations represent normal forms of human experience. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding. Therefore, these mainstream organizations long ago abandoned classifications of homosexuality as a mental disorder.

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.

Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his samesex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life.”

Let me go on the record as saying that I am not the spokesperson for the queer kids at PC: I just happen to be an outspoken queer kid at PC.

This comes with some things (not baggage but… things). While I have been harassed and harangued once or twice for my sexual orientation, I can always cry a little and then get over it. People know my politics and make assumptions about me before they meet me and I’m fine with that it comes with the territory. But many folks here have made one big mistake: they think I do not love my school. I have been accused of trying to figuratively burn the reputation of this institution, which I love so dearly, in effigy. This is incorrect. I chose PC.

The students at Providence College are not the problem because students can be put through workshops to increase sensitivity on issues like these. The problem is that so many students have stood up and identified themselves as LGBTQ, yet Providence College will not identify. It says one thing and does another. It says you are welcome then says you are sick.

The students of Providence College are not here to simply exchange money for room, board and degrees: we are active in the development of this institution’s reputation. But this is not a call to arms. I am not advocating for a protest. We should allow controversial speakers to come to campus. But I was told that we would be protected and I am looking for the other side of this. I am looking for the faculty member who is going to get up and present the contrary argument, the truth and the message that promotes respect for human dignity and rights. This is not an academic freedom issue but instead a mental health malpractice issue.

And mostly I worry for those I do not know. I declare that I am not sick and neither are my brothers and sisters (and those gender-nonconforming siblings of mine). But what about the students who are not connected to the resources I am. I am part of an organization that networks roughly 30 queer and allied folks to support, education and protection. When our house is rattled by this we will stand together and know love and truth.

But the students that we do not know – the ones who have not identified – won’t be connected to the same support system. Already isolated, they may feel diagnosed. And so the guy who hasn’t come out to his family or roommates yet is going to hear that PC hosted a speaker (again, an unopposed speaker) who believes his “condition” is treatable. What does this do to a person?

To close I will be explicitly honest: I shouldn’t have been made to feel by this institution like I had to put my identity on the line (time and again) to make this a safe place. I am not the only one who has been pushed by the inconsistent identity of this institution to do so. We dutifully do what we must, but we should no longer be responsible for teachable moments.

Not to mention that Providence College didn’t need this right now.

Providence College, you must choose: how do you identify?

What Are You Looking For?

IMG_497604574877~2Matthew Henry Smith ’16

It would seem that our generation has brought with it the culmination of a cultural romance narrative that is utterly exclusionary and totally tragic. This manifests itself in apps like Grindr, Tinder, and OkCupid.

I won’t say I don’t use these apps. In fact I wont swear off this narrative totally, as after personal evaluation I see it as something that might perhaps work for me. Apps like these have allowed me to form relationships for which I am grateful.

But while the side effects of these apps can be pleasant and beneficial the purpose of them is to perpetuate the urgency of our desperation and to provide a false-cure for omnipresent loneliness.

This editorial functions under the assumption that when we hookup up or pursue hookups we are not exclusively seeking sex but more profoundly we are seeking a moment of closeness or intimacy that comes from holding someone close through a night on singular orb of life in a vast and quiet universe. Currently we are looking to fill one-another’s voids.

“This is worth earning my empathy. I’m saying I love you.” -NGE

A few days ago someone casually came out to me as asexual and my world was totally rocked.

Even as a gay man (a socially acceptable term I use to inaccurately describe the whole of my identity) I have privilege in this culture over someone who identifies as asexual. Unlike celibacy, which is a choice, asexuality is a sexual orientation. Asexual people have the same emotional needs as everybody else and are just as capable of forming intimate relationships. [1]

Being gay can be hard, but I can only imagine the unique challenge of being asexual. More than the battle against heterosexism, the experience of the asexual individual is thoroughly misunderstood by those of us who are more conventionally sexually oriented. Our culture provides a framework of widely acceptable opportunities for our self-actualization through romantic relationships, and by over-emphasizing marriage as a means of ordering our valued relationships we end up excluding folks. Our culture’s most celebrated method for individual fulfillment is not one that gives everyone a chance.

I have spent a great deal of time in dialogue with queer folks who don’t support marriage equality for this reason.

Someone whom I hold in utmost esteem is nearly 60 years old and has never been married. She is not opposed to marriage. She has had romantic relationships. But she not lonely, because she knows the value of being alone and has relationships of varying forms which she treasures and invests in heavily.

We tend to look at people like person this as folks who failed. They didn’t find someone to love them and isn’t that a shame? But maybe they’re better off than folks who are chronic daters who move from romance to romance in order to create their own identities.

But even beyond the reality of marriage and long-term romantic companionship’s cultural exclusivity, we are failing with the concept of marriage for an even bigger reason. We make marital relationships the most import relationship a person can achieve in their life and in doing so discredit all other relationships. Marriage isn’t the right choice for many of the people who choose it, but folks feel obligated by our culture to fulfill their “duty” to get hitched (and for women, to produce children). Further, because we are directed towards this end and function under the assumption that marriage is our destiny we declare that the state of not being in a relationship is inherently a state of loneliness.

There is nothing wrong with seeking romance and companionship, but when this becomes the primary motivation for seeking out a relationship it reveals in the seeker emptiness and perhaps even a lack of identity. Because our culture is on board with this approach to relationships we reveal in our culture a broad emptiness. We propagated our own loneliness. And now we use the extraordinary means of romance applications to remedy it.

What can you do?

Well, our culture needs to ask itself the question that we are asked on Grindr, Tinder and OkCupid at the beginning of almost every interaction:

“What are you looking for?”

As well as these subsequent, telling questions:

Do you think of yourself as lonely or as alone? Do you know why you want what you want? Do you know how to be alone?

This all may sound disparagingly pessimistic, but it isn’t. Loneliness is the state of not knowing how to be alone, and it is not corrected by filling the void with another person. We stop being lonely when we can be alone with ourselves. The second step is deciding to value relationships other than those romantic – for instance our relationship with God, our parents, our close friends. In this we do our part to increase the health of our species by promoting a diversity of relationships. We invite all people to feel authentically connected. When folks we loved leave this life, we know how to continue living because we know our relationships were valid in and of themselves. We would do well not to wait for a romance to affirm us, but to affirm and be affirmed by our friends.

“I am me. I want to be myself. I want to continue existing in this world. My life is worth living here.” -NGE

If you determine that the current cultural narrative is the one for you, know that it only works when you have become comfortable being alone. Don’t fill a void: find a companion. But even if it is the narrative that was written for you, allow for others to write their own relationship narratives. For when our culture, (and yes you, Friartown) can value diverse relationships and decide to be alone instead of being lonely, the communion of our human race will there be there to say “Congratulations.” After all this, too, is love


[1] The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network

Dear PC: Acquire Louie’s

mattdefaultMatthew Henry Smith ’16

Dear Providence College: Acquire Louie’s Tavern

Providence College needs a place for all students, those above and below the age of 21, to mingle, dance and fist-pump. For those who would quickly point to McPhail’s and say, “look we do” you would be correct. McPhail’s exists as an on-campus entertainment center with a bar, a dance floor, pool tables, televisions and mood lighting. Student Congress is working on extending the hours of the establishment and offering alcohol more days per week. SAIL is working on many engaging events for the semester in terms of weekend programming and even offers grants to student organizations so that they can hold events on weekends.

But there remain some issues with the concept of McPhail’s. While it provides weekend programming, this programming is not consistently the nightlife club-culture that students really crave. The lack of appeal is exacerbated by McPhail’s structural issues, chiefly, that you have to go through the student center to get to this bar. On nights where events require costumes or upscale attire, the location can definitely be a buzz kill. There is no entrance to the bar from outside of the structure of the Slavin Center, which would arguably create that much sought after “club vibe.”*

And so, apart from some of these successful “themed” shindigs that take place on Friday and Saturday Nights, I “have heard” that the majority of students who are less engaged by these are heading out to the bars underage. I’ve “heard” that this has been the practice for years now. And I know that this is why Louie’s Tavern shut down before it was closed by the State.

I have had friends get arrested at bars for being there underage, and all of us have at least heard whispers of the Fake ID process; the hurdles, the expense, the risks. Why are students doing this? Especially considering, aside from the “hot-kid-dangerous” sex appeal of being bad, nightlife has become a real ordeal, eventually underclassmen have to do a risk analysis and say “Is it worth it?”

While many of my peers are beginning to answer “No,” I think it is time for PC to do a risk assessment, too. With these businesses being tied to PC students, we need to discuss whether or not the campus amenities have provided a legitimate alternative.

To be clear, I also argue that the driving force behind underage students going to bars is not the pursuit of alcohol. Chances are they could accomplish that in dorms, (and for much less money). The heart of the matter is that there is a strong, undeniable appeal to nightlife, camaraderie and dancing that is not intrinsically tied to “breaking the rules.”**

So, while we work on getting McPhail’s back in Saturday Night Shape, let’s talk about a real opportunity: Louie’s Tavern. Located conveniently on Douglas right near one of our PC Shuttle stops the bar has a reputation of being real a hip place for students to enjoy themselves. My suggestion is that PC should purchase or lease Louie’s and operate it under the same name with these conditions:

  • That it be open, 18+, to all PC students, alumni and friends of PC students
  • That it serve booze only to those of age
  • That it be staffed by PC students and “locals” (with hiring preference given to members of the Wanskuck community)
  • That it play REALLY good music to REALLY dance to

And that’s all, Friars. This could be a solution that benefits all of us. What with local student landlords being brought before the state, the closing of Louie’s Tavern, publicized student arrest and our perennial “red-cup” problem we must remember that the actions of students in the community are tied to the institution, and that the actions, or non-actions, of the institution, are tied to its students. Let’s all do a risk assessment this weekend.

Cheers, Friars.

*Student Amanda Talbot has been shouting about this for years.

**Only a little bit.

I Bring You Glad Tidings of Great Joy

mattdefaultMatthew Henry Smith ’16

There’s a spectrum on which most Americans find themselves. On one side are those who are in the practice of saying “Happy Holidays” to all they encounter from Black Friday to Christmas. On the other side are those who vigorously assert the phrase “Merry Christmas” both as a greeting and form of protest to the assault on the holiday by the painfully politically correct. And of course, there is a whole range of convictions and ideologies that float between the two.

It is unfortunate that the greetings of the season have become political. In an effort to either be vaguely inclusive or rigidly true, our best intended salutations get lost in frustration. Perhaps it is this frosted tumult which has us bickering absurdly over the skin pigmentation of an illusive icon or, even more foolishly, over the ethnicity of Christ.

But because you can find bloggers chastising Fox’s Megyn Kelly throughout the web or writing paragraphs about the plausibility of Black Santa on other progressive media outlets, I’d rather take this opportunity to posit a different thought. I want to present the case for the value of celebrating secular Christmas and why we should respect those who do.

This editorial acknowledges that American culture forcibly baptizes all of its citizens into a general and ambiguous Christianity; God is on our money, in our pledges, on our memorials. It must therefore be equally acknowledged that a side effect of forcible national evangelization is the general misappropriation of a Christian Holy Day.

Wishing people “Merry Christmas” becomes a non-issue for me because I take the time to respect the secular celebration of Christmas. I accept that my friends of differing faith backgrounds will celebrate Christmas in secular ways. I invite them to take as much from Christianity as they can.

This secular Christmas celebration I’m talking about isn’t the corrosive consumerist binge fest. It’s the gathering of families and friends to share in some of the values associated with the birth of my God; faith in good will, family, forgiveness, gratitude, mercy, humility, hope. It is the communal prayer to powers unseen. It is reunion of estranged relatives and lost friends. It gives direction to the aimless. It engenders selflessness. It focuses the attention of the misery on the poor and vulnerable.

My family and I attend Church every Sunday, and though I’m not a Catholic whose principles are perfectly consistent with Church teaching, nor am I a biblical scholar or foremost thinker on issues of interreligious dialogue, I am a snapshot of the average American-Catholic growing up in a time when Advent is ground-zero in a war I’ve been told I’m a soldier in.

I protest. My faith demands it.

To my fellow imperfect practitioners of Christianity: the secular celebration of Christmas does not change Christmas for us. It won’t change the fact that I’ll be sitting with my family at the 5:00PM Christmas Vigil at St. Pius Church on December 24th. It won’t dissolve our Savior. If it could, Christ wouldn’t be much of a King, would he?

Celebrating Christmas without Christ is like drinking orange juice instead of eating an actual orange. You get the essence, but not all of the complexity and the fibers and nutrients. But, I maintain that drinking juice is better than going entirely without sustenance.

And who are we to hold the infant Jesus up as an ultimatum? To say “you will have this Child in your heart, or you will have nothing in your heart at all?” Is our faith not rich enough that we must eviscerate another human’s expression of the same intangible values?

I am an advocate of respecting secular Christmas for the non-religious because I’m called to look at everyone as Christ. In this way I welcome you into my imperfect stable of a world. The war never began. Jesus still is born, is among us, is crucified, is risen.

I pray that when America gathers next week – at tables or food pantries or in places of worship – that we all might enjoy the gifts of the Son regardless of whether we all understand Him as the original Giver.

And I wish you a very Merry Christmas.  

Sophie, You’re Beautiful!

mattdefaultMatthew Henry Smith ’16

I was home for dinner on Sunday night. My Dad had his jazz music going in the kitchen where he was baking breaded fish and potatoes. My Mom was sitting with me in the living room asking about school and boys and activities (she’s not like a regular mom; she’s a cool mom). She asked if there were clubs at PC that I would consider joining if I had a little more time.

“Have you ever thought about trying out for Friars Club?”

“I mean, sure. They’re great people who do great things. But there is one club that’s first on my list if I ever get the time to join.”

“Which one, Matt?”

“The Anime Club!”

Well, there it is. Everything is out in the open now. My dirty little secret, the thing that I’ve been keeping locked up inside is that I’m all about anime.

The thing about animes is that, aside from being visually stunning, they incorporate valuable themes and lessons. These themes are conveyed through thematic, particularly difficult life situations often experienced by characters who are children. I grew up watching these children and marveling at their bravery, integrity, maturity and other-centeredness. Certainly Hercules, Aladdin, and Mulan were cool. But as role models they were relatively one dimensional and the lessons in their stories were predictable.

But animes… they’ve got far more going on. To give some examples, Akira contrasts the concepts of Power and God. Spirited Away is all about Friendship, Family and Courage. Princess Mononoke addresses the struggle between the immediate well being of people and the long-term goals of environmentalism (it’s also an eco-feminism piece). Neon Genesis Evangelion takes the viewer on an adventurous survey through the reality of competing wills and motivations, and critiques the purpose of community service.

Sometimes, unlike Disney[1] but a lot like life, an anime doesn’t wrap up neatly and pleasantly. Being in college has had me referencing these themes and lessons I observed in my youth as they now become applicable to my life and relationships.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a story that has recently been on my mind. Based very loosely on a novel by Diana Wynne Jones, this Anime is the story of a modest, demure girl named Sophie who works in a hat shop. A witch comes in at closing one evening and curses Sophie to appear as an old woman. Engulfed misery about her condition, Sophie goes to work as a cleaning lady for a disreputable young wizard named Howl who suffers a curse of his own; he has sold his soul to a shooting star in exchange for the power to stop a war. Quite a pair they make, Sophie bemoaning her unconventional looks and Howl crying dramatically when he accidently dyes his hair the wrong color.

The thing is that Sophie and Howl fall in love with each other.

Now, everyone has insecurities. I don’t consider myself uniquely insecure. All the same, I think that the question Sophie and Howl pose is fairly universal: how do you love someone, encourage them to be confident, tell them they are beautiful when you don’t believe it about yourself.

Well, this anime offers answers that question. Unlike an unfortunately idyllic  “Made in the USA” romance that would have Ariel voicelessly being saved by a man she hardly knows, Howl and Sophie do something quite different. They save each other.

This begins with a somewhat whimsical “odd-couple” dynamic as they wreak harmless havoc in each other’s lives. But when they start fall in love, it happens that each is abundantly aware of the other’s inadequacies. Their love is a balance struck between supportive understanding and constructive challenges. It isn’t hyper-romantic. It’s real love.

Disney did us all a disservice. Even if you’re from the most privileged background, you’re not going to get the fairy-tale ending they set us up for. They gave us gender roles set us straight on the course for a marriage based on the quivering foundation of cinema magic.

But animes set you on a course for whatever might happen: death, love, mental illness, sexuality, unconventional family structures, old friends, faithlessness, Christ, etc. They gave me some tools that Disney chose not to. They’ve come in handy time and time again, and I’m pretty grateful.

I encourage you to try animes, or to dust off the ones you perhaps denied ever watching. After all, you never know when you’ll find a witch in your own hat shop.


[1] Disney International actually distributed Howl’s Moving Castle in the United States, but they did not have a hand in its conception.